On today’s market there are a variety of wheel sizes available on bicycles to suit young children to adults. The vast number of wheel sizes are made available to accommodate rider’s height, desired bike performance and riding surface. Navigating and understanding the different wheel sizes can be tricky, especially if you are a beginner. In an attempt to make it simple, tyres are sized according to the diameter of the wheel, along with the width measurement in inches (eg. 26” x 1.5”). Generally, road bikes will have a tyre width of 23mm to 28mm, while mountain bikes have a tyre width between 1.5 to 2.5 inches.
For children learning to ride on their first bike, the 12-inch wheel is a great youth bike as the tyres are relatively low to the ground allowing kids feet to help them braking and moving. As an early learning bicycle, 12-inch wheels commonly feature stabilizing wheels for assistance with balance. The stability of the 12-inch wheel refines children's fine motor skills and provide a safe riding experience.
16-inch wheels are a perfect size for children aged 4-7 years old who are new to bike riding and still learning, the smaller frame offers a low stand over so children can reach the ground while riding. The smaller size also comes with the option of attaching training wheels. Naturally, smaller wheels will limit the bikes durability over bumps and restrict the turning radius. Typically, 16-inch bicycles don’t include gears and suspension, meaning climbing hills will be harder. This wheel size will offer basic features that fares wells for an entry level children’s bike.
20-inch wheels are considered the standard size for BMX bikes and can also be found in recreational bikes for older children and shorter adults. The lighter weight of smaller wheels enables quicker acceleration and superior maneuverability. However, 20-inch wheels don't fare well over rocky terrain or off-road cycling, due to its low stand-over height. As small wheels are easier to stow, the 20-inch wheel is also commonly found in folding bikes. In terms of storage, you’ll appreciate the compact size and easy portability of the 20-inch wheels.
24-inch wheels are commonly seen in junior mountain bikes and BMX ‘cruiser’ models. Although this size is less common, it is increasing in popularity amongst youth racing and would best suit pre-teens and shorter adults. Similar to the 20-inch wheel, the smaller size of the 24-inch wheel will offer riders faster acceleration to pick up speed quicker and climb uphill with more ease. This size will also offer responsive steering and increased tyre compliance with the surface.
For shorter riders looking for a wheel size that boasts superior speed and stability, a 26-inch wheel could prove to be your best fit. Wider tyres on the 26er (not available in smaller wheel sizes) will offer benefits in terms of maneuverability and faster acceleration; however, riders will sacrifice top speed due to the small rolling distance. A big benefit riders will find in the 26-inch wheel is that it is lighter and more responsive compared to other sizes due to the 26er’s smaller diameter. Therefore, the 26-inch will feel more agile and riders will experience quicker acceleration over smooth surfaces. The 26-inch wheels are also commonly seen in folding bikes and tandem bikes.
27.5”/ 650b Wheels
In terms of beginner mountain bikes, the 27.5-inch wheel is the most popular and readily available size. The 27.5-inch wheel is a great size for taller riders, this size will offer quicker acceleration and nimbler handling for greater control. Whilst this size offers good maneuverability and acceleration, in comparison to the 26-inch wheel, the 27.5-inch wheel will also provide riders with more top speed due to the increased rolling distance. Other advantages you will find with this wheel size is its ability to roll over obstacles easily, a larger contact path for more traction and more rotational inertia to maintain momentum.
29”/ 700c Wheels
Due to the popularity of this size, 29-inch wheels are frequently found in both mountain bikes (29-inch) and road bikes (700c). Since 29-inch wheels are wider in diameter they can easily roll over obstacles, ensuring a smoother ride. Recently the 29er has been adopted by mountain bikers as the thicker tyre provides better traction as result of a larger footprint on the ground. With the 29-inch wheel comes increased momentum, ideal for off-road riding, however riders will have to sacrifice maneuverability due to the larger wheel size.
While the vast range of wheel sizes available can be hard to understand when your trying to pick out your perfect size, it is easy to eliminate what is too big or too small so you can focus on what size is most comfortable to you. The size that will work best for you will depend on your size and the type of bike you're after, for example if you are searching for a mountain bike you would look at either a 27.6-inch or 29-inch. With the right research or talking to an expert you can get a better understand of wheel sizes and their benefits or limitations.
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